One traffic light away, Huxley undeniably knows where we’re headed. Then again, I assume that he assumes all car rides either lead to the dog park or thousands of highway miles. I put the car in park and he cries in anticipation. Huxley hops from the sand-ridden backseat of my Honda Civic and pulls me toward the closest entrance. As I lift the first latch, he dances and the white tresses of his tail flit quickly. I lift the second latch and he is gone as quickly as a gannet plunging headfirst into water.
A majority of the park is shaded by tall oak and vast buttonwood trees, all shrouded by Spanish moss that hangs and rustles like party streamers left out and abandoned before a summertime storm. Roots run and crawl beneath the loose soil and sometimes jab out above the surface, forming a miniature but treacherous mountain range to navigate. Sparse grass gives way to sand as I venture closer to the water of Lake Baldwin. The lake itself sometimes smells of squandered eggs but also, somehow, sweet like the tang of a dying fruit tree. When I close my eyes and really inhale, it also smells of fresh rain.
Before I let Huxley swim, I exhaust a fraction of his energy. With a curved plastic wand, I heave a muddied tennis ball with all my strength. He dashes through the shadows and his polychrome coat shines in the flecks of sunlight filtering through the top canopy. People pass nearby to walk on the short forest trails. When he turns toward me, ball in mouth, heaving and also exultant, he is ready to swim.
Active owners never wear nice clothes to a park like this. The ladies with Great Danes often wear cargo shorts and baseball tees. The young blokes with pit bulls sometimes don’t wear shoes at all. I prefer to wear clothes I’d run in: stained, ripped, or unflattering in color. I won’t leave without being slobbered on, jumped on, shook on, or pushed down. Galoshes are also essential. I keep my eyes trained on the deeper, murky water, scanning for alligators or anything that could devastate the tranquil illusion of a lake.
My favorite time to go is in the late afternoon, when the wind is still warm and the water is a myriad of reds and oranges. Huxley meets me in the clear shallow after what seems like a lifetime of fetch. Most days, even the swimming doesn’t tire him, but sometimes he’ll visit me while still smelling of mud, lean his weight against my thigh, and look out toward the water as if searching for the sunset. He lies down in the same place he stood, contented by a few hours outside and the companionship of something other than two cats who can never understand him.